59 Jaw-Dropping Roadside Attractions: Western U.S., Alaska, Hawaii

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Our top reasons-from giant mazes to outdoor churches to the world's largest ball of twine-to pull off the side of the road and visit a while

Alaska

Santa Claus House  
 

Every day is Christmas at the Santa Claus House, just south of Fairbanks in the town of North Pole. Stop in for a look at Dasher and Blitzen--the two on-site reindeer--or a visit with Santa  himself (Wed.-Sun.). For $7.50, you can purchase a square inch of land in North Pole or send a pre-written letter from Santa--with a North Pole postmark--to anywhere in the world. 101 St. Nicholas Dr., 800/588-4078, santaclaushouse.com.

California

Exotic World

Once the home of dirty dancer Jennie Lee--known in her heyday as the Bazoom Girl--this burlesque museum houses a collection of pasties, lip prints, and bejeweled G-strings. Curator Dixie Evans leads tours through the Striptease Hall of Fame, where she is also proudly enshrined. The Striptease Reunion and Miss Exotic World Pageant--the best in burlesque, past and present--is held annually on the first Saturday of June here in Helendale, 15 miles southwest of Barstow. 29053 Wild Rd., 760/243-5261, exoticworldusa.org, suggested donation $5. Sticker: $3.

The World's Tallest Thermometer

Standing 134 feet tall--a tribute to the hottest temperature ever recorded in North America, on the floor of nearby Death Valley--the World's Tallest Thermometer displays bright digital readings to motorists going in both directions on I-15. Willis Herron, former owner of the Bun Boy Restaurant, also in Baker, had the Popsicle-stick-shaped tower built in the hope that folks would pull over for a slice of Bun Boy's famous strawberry pie ($4). 72155 Baker Blvd., 760/733-4660.

Calico Ghost Town

Ten miles north of Barstow is a throwback to the Old West, complete with Lil's swinging-door saloon and a sheriff who regularly rounds up "lawbreakers." If you're lucky, you may see a real western-style wedding held at the one-room schoolhouse; there are also nighttime ghost tours through spots where spooks have been sighted. Be alert: Gunfights can break out at any time--or, actually, every hour on the half hour from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Exit Ghost Town Rd. on I-15, Yermo, 800/862-2542, calicotown.com, $6, kids $3.

Colorado

UFO Watchtower

No abductions have been reported--yet--at the UFO Watchtower, a man-made lookout for anything and everything extraterrestrial. After hearing countless references to the San Luis Valley in The X-Files and on the SciFi Channel--the area is well known for having very little light pollution--founder Judy Messoline created the watchtower, about 200 miles south of Denver. Bring a tent and stay the night or head straight to the gift shop, where you can buy Judy's favorite bumper sticker ($2): "Buckle up! it makes it harder for the aliens to suck you out of your car." 2502 County Rd. 61, Hooper, 719/378-2271, ufowatchtower.com, free.

Hawaii

The World's Largest Maze

The two-acre garden maze at the Dole Plantation in Oahu was recognized in 2001 by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's biggest. The hibiscus hedges are seven feet high, and at its center the maze resembles a giant pineapple. There are guides to help those who get lost. 64-1550 Kamehameha Hwy., 808/621-8408, dole-plantation.com, $5, kids $3.

Idaho

Idaho Potato Expo

Off I-15, 25 miles southwest of Idaho Falls, is the Idaho Potato Expo, a museum filled with a two-foot Pringle (the world's largest), potato hand lotion, and even a spud signed by grammatically challenged former vice president--and good sport--Dan Quayle. Bonus: Each pair of visitors gets a free box of dehydrated hash browns. 130 Northwest Main St., Blackfoot, 208/ 785-2517, potatoexpo.com, $3, seniors $2.50, kids $1.

Montana

Lincoln's World Famous 10,000 Silver $ Bar and Casino

Actually, it's more like the 43,000-and-Counting Silver $ Bar and Casino: In 1952, Rex Lincoln cut a round hole in his bar, pounded in a silver dollar, and inscribed his name below it. Patrons have wanted in on the fun ever since. Each year visitors to this I-90 landmark, halfway between Missoula, Mont., and Spokane, Wash., donate nearly 1,500 coins to be mounted on the walls. Bring your own or buy one at the bar, then come back next year: Coins are mounted in January. Exit 16, Haugan, 406/678-4242.

Nevada

Little Ale Inn

Along Highway 375--better known as the Extraterrestrial Highway--this restaurant/bar/gift shop/motel is the only trace of civilization outside the ultrasecretive Area 51, just south of Rachel. Owner Pat Travis will be happy to entertain you with stories of actual alien sightings ("They came in the form of humans..."). Browse the aprons and tote bags in the gift shop, and order Travis's famous Alien Burger. "It's out of this world," she says. 775/729-2515, aleinn.com, burger $3.75. Alien salt and pepper shakers: $8.99.

Oregon

The House of Mystery and the Oregon Vortex

Self-described as "an area of naturally occurring visual and perceptual phenomena," the Oregon Vortex, near Gold Hill, in southwestern Oregon, has been defying the laws of physics since 1930. Balls roll uphill, brooms stand on end, and the mass of objects--including people--has been known to mysteriously change. Bring a camera. 4303 Sardine Creek Rd., 541/855-1543, oregonvortex.com, $8, seniors $7, kids 6-11 $6.

Utah

Hole N' the Rock

Forty-thousand visitors come annually to see this 5,000-square-foot house carved from a huge sandstone rock 12 miles south of Moab. It has 14 rooms, including an art studio and lapidary, where cocreator Albert Christensen once polished his rocks. All that's missing: Fred, Wilma, and Pebbles. 11037 S. Hwy. 191, 877/686-2250, moab-utah.com/holeintherock, $4.25, kids $2.25.

Washington

World Famous Bob's Java Jive

This Tacoma dive, where bands play nightly, has a jungle-theme interior--and it once featured live, swinging monkeys. Even stranger, it's shaped like a giant coffeepot: Built in 1927 as a coffee shop, it was once surrounded by other buildings that imitated their purposes (such as a gas station shaped like a pump). It's the only one left. 2102 S. Tacoma Way, 253/475-9843, bipolaraudio.com/bobs_java_jive.html.

Wyoming

The Douglas Jackalope

The town of Douglas--130 miles north of Cheyenne--is absolutely devoted to the rare jackalope, a cross between a rabbit and an antelope. Self-proclaimed as the Home of the Jackalope, Douglas erected an eight-foot statue in what's known as Jackalope Square. To solidify its place in jackalope lore, the town had hoped to build another statue (this one 80 feet tall and made of fiberglass), but the plans fell through. Jackalope hunting licenses are available, but no one has ever bagged one of the wily creatures. Douglas Chamber of Commerce, 307/358-2950, jackalope.org, free.

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